Remote work and business opportunities in hospitality

Remote work is here to stay and it opens plenty of opportunities for hospitality.

The hospitality industry has been very reactive when it comes to new trends which presents an opportunity for those capable of predicting the near future (not rocket science, actually).

It's time to build 💪

When I opened the first coliving & coworking space for digital nomads in 2013, I believed that it had the potential to become a little niche business.

It attracted people who could work remotely and wanted to spend weeks or months close to the beach.

Working area of our coliving for digital nomads in Canary Islands (2014)

I assumed that this might be more mainstream in 10 years or so but I didn’t expect this market to grow so fast. Remote work opened up new opportunities that I even didn't think about a few years ago.

These 8 areas, I believe, have the potential to become hot trends:

  1. Towns for remote workers
  2. Home swapping
  3. City getaways and glamping
  4. Coliving in lifestyle locations
  5. Staycations
  6. Neighbourhood coworkings
  7. Campervans
  8. Hosting company offsites

1. Towns for remote workers

There are already many initiatives with which the local municipality or country tries to attract remote workers. Most of these initiatives consist of creating a website and making a promotion about it.

Sometimes, this results in great output for politicians—but real results are questionable.

Countries can compete with nomad visas to make it easy for remote workers to come and stay without huge bureaucratic obstacles.

I see the greatest opportunities in towns, villages and small municipalities.

Madeira Nomad Village is a good example. They partner with a local coworking space, a few accommodation partners and try to create a community of remote workers and digital nomads.

Combine it with international PR and you can create a lot of buzz.

Gonçalo Hall with his team did an outstanding job and showed a path to others.

Any local municipality can copy this approach and I'm more curious to see some commercial initiatives that can take this to the next level.

Google created an entire brand around their amazing offices—chefs, a laundry service, unlimited ice cream, slides… you name it.

How are the most progressive companies going to attract the best global talent in the next decade?

Think about exclusive private corporate towns/resorts in amazing lifestyle locations. Corporations will provide the digital nomad lifestyle to attract talent. Cybersecurity is going to be a thing.

Perhaps results of employees' OKRs can be transformed into free days in these resorts.

2. Home swapping

Home swapping is a concept that Airbnb made obsolete. Two people in different locations had to agree on the dates and conditions of the swap. Too complicated. Easier to book something on Airbnb, list your own property on the same platform, and make some extra money while you’re travelling.  

But there’s a problem. I’ll explain it using personal experience as an example and hopefully, you can relate.  I live in Amsterdam and I would like to stay, let's say, in Paris for 3 months and work from there.

What can I do with my flat in Amsterdam? The local laws limit Airbnb rentals to max. 30 days a year and besides, it's complicated. You need to have an agreement from your neighbours and you need to register at the city hall. Renting out your own property is a hassle in most western cities.

I'm going to lose a lot of money keeping my apartment empty. Swapping it with someone who has an apartment in Paris would be ideal—if there is no financial transaction, I'm technically not limited by Amsterdam's short-term rental laws.

Another issue with rental apartments on Airbnb is that they’re not designed for living: I want a very good mattress, standing desk, office chair, oven, dishwasher, fully-equipped kitchen…

There’s a fascinating concept from China that makes renting your apartment while travelling frictionless:

  1. You rent a studio in a hotel with a long-term contract
  2. While you travel, the hotel will take care of renting it short-term
  3. The studio is designed the way that you can hide all your personal belongings
  4. Your monthly rent is discounted accordingly

The hotel is called Stey and it's in Beijing.

Prediction: This model will soon be copied by many hospitality brands around the world.

3. City getaways and glamping

Glamping has grown enormously during the pandemic and I believe this growth will continue throughout the next decade.

Cabins, glamping pods, and geodesic domes situated in nature and near large cities are a gold mine when you consider high occupancy rates and how much you can charge per night. Once you figure out permits, you can slowly scale the operations by adding more units over time.

I would think about a holistic experience and how I could package it for companies. This might be one of the most wanted company's benefits in the future. Remove the friction and sell it in a package with door-to-door transportation.

You can focus on glamping units designed for work: A working area with a good internet connection is a must. Starlink changes the game, offering a high-speed internet connection in extremely remote locations.

Or you can try an opposite approach - offline experiences for people who want to disconnect. Not having an internet connection is a feature, not a bug. Sell it as a digital detox.

This is obviously not for everyone. It requires a lot of maintenance and marketing skills, and acquiring the right land isn’t easy either.

I wrote a guide for people who want to start a glamping business and I strongly believe that the best way to start is with prefab cabins — this database of prefab cabins rented on Airbnb might come in handy.

4. Coliving in lifestyle locations

When I started with coliving in 2013, the value proposition was very simple:

  1. Productive workspace
  2. Comfortable room to sleep
  3. A vibrant community of remote workers

After visiting a few coliving websites in 2021, I noticed that not much has changed.

But the market changed a lot. Airbnb commoditized apartment rentals but it's still not ideal for remote workers.

The interview with Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, is one of my favourite episodes from the Masters of Scale podcast. There, Brian talks about building a mindfuck experience that you tell everyone about.

You can rate your Airbnb stay from 1 to 5 stars.

How could a 6-star coliving experience look like? What about 10-stars?

From the productivity perspective, it might be 1 gig internet, phone booths, Aeron chair, Apple Cinema display…

It's a good exercise.

You can think about it from a different perspective—how do employers consider their employees enjoying the digital nomad lifestyle? What worries them? Cybersecurity, privacy, compliance, taxation, insurance, etc.

Another opportunity: Nomad families.

Everyone focuses on single remote workers. But I’ve seen some hotels have success by focusing on middle to upper-class families from large western cities that want to spend a month or two working abroad. Package it with a nursery, kinder garden, activities for kids, etc.

Many challenges but also many opportunities...

Check out my free guide to start a coliving business if you’re considering starting a coliving.

5. Staycations

The success of budget airlines in Europe made travelling way more affordable in the last 15 years. Instead of planning 1-2-3 weeks holidays once or twice a year, Europeans started to travel more often for “long weekends”.

I remember that some people called these short trips “euro weekends,” now a cringe-worthy term, given that this type of travel has become somewhat the norm.  

Remote work opens a new way of travelling called “staycation”, another term likely become cringe-worthy in the next 10 to 15 years 🙂

Revolut's allowance for working abroad is 2 months a year

Those who don't have to go to the office need no longer rush to the airport on a Thursday afternoon to catch a plane for a long weekend. They don't need to take a day off because they can work from their laptop at the final destination.

Google is moving to a hybrid model with an option to work from anywhere for 4 weeks a year and more companies will adopt a similar policy. This is the huge opportunity in the hospitality industry I'm talking about.

Google's CEO on Twitter

How can you adjust the experience at your accommodation to provide these remote workers with a productive work environment during the workweek, and epic leisure experiences on evenings and weekends?

6. Neighbourhood coworkings

Operating a coworking space is a bad business:

  • A commoditized product
  • Tiny margins that place you in the danger zone every month
  • Hard to scale
  • Demands a long-term commitment

The cool part about the coworking business model is memberships (subscriptions!), the pain point is the real estate (monthly rent or bank loan).

The concept behind Neighborhood Work Club allows you to keep sweet memberships and get rid of rental commitments.

Here is the idea

  • Partnering with cafés/restaurants/hotels in off-peak hours 🤝
  • Affordable membership prices (about 50$/month) 💸
  • Free drip coffee ☕
  • Strong community vibe 👋

There hasn't been a better time for starting such a project. People who used to work from the office now work from home. It's not always ideal.

You probably don't want to come back to the office. But sometimes it feels good to be surrounded by other people working around you, right?

Then you have commercial real estate decimated after the pandemic. Many landlords and operators of cafés, restaurants, hotels, etc. are open to hybrid models where you can bring some new type of customers in off-peak hours.

It scales indefinitely

Thanks to the asset-free approach you can easily scale the model to more neighbourhoods or even cities. There are many opportunities for upselling other types of services to members.

I found 2 startups that are trying to do this in some way, both are in the early stage: Switchyards and Gable.

7. Campervans

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit, people realized that travelling by plane is not going to be an option in the near future. As a result, the demand for campervans skyrocketed. It was impossible to book a campervan in Europe for summer 2020 unless you booked it long in advance or you were willing to pay a premium.

Many people purchased a new or second-hand camper, platforms like Indiecampers grew. Himcamp and Campspace allow you to find a spot to park your camper from private owners.

Harvesthosts moved this concept to the next level. It's a network of wineries and breweries, where you can park your RV, and stay for a night (and a drink).

All the above are marketplaces:

  1. Hosts list their campervan or land
  2. Customers book it
  3. The marketplace gets a commission from the transaction

Remote work opens new opportunities that can go beyond marketplaces.

I'd like to spend a month or two in a campervan but I also need to work. An obvious solution might be a camper with a desk and mobile internet.

A friend of mine worked remotely from New Zealand last year and she made all her Instagram followers jealous—what an office view!

@saskiaathlene remote working from New Zealand

Is a campervan the ideal place for productive work? I’m not so sure.

But I can definitely imagine parking a camper at a campsite that caters only to remote workers: Superfast internet, a workspace area, some phone booths, and a nice café or restaurant—that would be a dream.

Kibbo somehow reminded me of this idea. They are building RV parks across the US and targeting millennials.

Kibbo - a new concept combining #vanlife and RV parks

Each RV park has a clubhouse (aka social space) where people can meet, cook together, drink a few beers... I believe this idea can be easily expanded towards catering to remote workers.

Do you want to dig more into this? Codie Sanchez made a deep dive into RV park investing (numbers included).

8. Hosting company offsites

There are only a few topics I can talk about for 10 hours non-stop and company offsites is one of them 😄

My company, Surf Office, organizes company offsites for customers across Europe and the US.

Company offsite in Portugal

One of our main challenges has always been finding the right accommodation partners. We have a list of 20 criteria that we analyze before working with a hotel or a villa. And boy, we are picky!

What I can tell you is, there are very few properties that are a good fit for hosting company retreats (I wrote a little guide about it).

Remote work allowed companies to move all their work to the cloud and realize they actually don't need an office. They were forced to learn to communicate efficiently over Zoom and Slack.

But there are certain activities like brainstorming, planning and team building, that are 10x easier to do in person. So more companies will use their budget saved on office rent and invest it into meeting once or twice a year for a company retreat.

If you know of a property that is located in a cool destination (city or nature) up to 1-hour drive from a large airport, with at least 15 rooms, and an area that can be converted into a workspace, please send them this link.


And that’s it!

More ideas are always popping into my head and I share them all the time on my Twitter and Linkedin.

You can also subscribe to my newsletter where I share business ideas and my own experiments around building hospitality products 👇

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If you are trying to build the next Marriott, this newsletter is probably NOT for you.

But you will love it if you are acquiring land for glamping, bootstrapping a coliving space, buying a small hotel, building a cabin, hustling with Airbnb apartments, launching a niche marketplace, renting on Hipcamp... or you just like exploring new hospitality trends and building stuff.

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